Branches of Watsons in the capital have removed one of its own-brand facial masks from stores after it was claimed a 40-year-old woman in Fuzhou, Fujian Province, died from using it.
A notice from the headquarters of Watsons was seen on the counter of a Watsons store on the second floor of New World Department Store in Chaoyang district, giving an explanation.
The White Pearl super whitening facial mask, has passed a number of safety tests and it meets the national health and safety standards, the notice said.
"But to be responsible to consumers, this type of facial mask has been removed from our shelves nationwide," it said.
Feng Dongxu, the store's assistant manager, confirmed that the product has been removed from the store.
"If any consumer wants to return the product, they can bring the receipt for a refund," he told the Global Times on Sunday.
According to Fujian Daily on Friday, a woman surnamed Jin in Fuzhou bought the product from a branch of Watsons in July, and applied it to her face on August 6.
She appeared red over her body and her lips turned blue, and Jin later died in hospital, the report said.
While one of Jin's relatives alleged to the Fujian Daily that the mask was poisonous, the Watsons' official microblog announced on Friday afternoon that at present, no evidence shows that the death of the woman was related to the facial mask.
Watsons has commenced further testing on the product involved.
Chen Huanran, a plastic surgeon in Beijing, told the Global Times that the likelihood is that Jin had a severe allergic reaction.
"Being poisoned to death needs a relatively long time of at least a few months," he said.
"But if one has an acute allergic reaction to something, he or she could die very quickly," Chen said.
Some women who try wrinkle reduction treatment (Botox) may die after being injected with the botulinum toxin because they have a very strong allergic reaction to it, Chen noted.
A customer service staff member from the Watsons head office in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, surnamed Guan, told the Global Times that experts they invited to test the product have found that the masks involved are non-toxic.
"They said that the woman had health problems and was not suited to use this kind of facial mask," she said.
"Removing them from shelves is out of consideration to our customers' feelings," Guan said.
The reports do not seem to have deterred Watsons' customers.
Wang Yuanyuan, 28, from Beijing, who usually buys facial masks from Watsons, told the Global Times that she had never the bought the type of mask concerned.
"Since it might be problematic, I won't buy it in the future, but it won't stop me from buying other kinds," she said, adding that she has used Watsons' facial masks for years and nothing bad has happened.
There have been deaths in other countries attributed to allergic reactions after using cosmetic products.
One British woman was in a coma after using L'Oréal hair dye, the Guardian reported on November 28. A month before, 17-year-old Briton Tabitha McCourt died 20 minutes after using a home hair dye kit.
The chemical most likely responsible for the reactions is p-Phenylenediamine (PPD), which is used in most permanent hair dyes.
PPD reactions can affect 1.5 percent of the population, the report said.
Chen suggested facial mask users put the product on a small patch of skin for an allergy test before using it on the face to avoid a serious reaction later. The best place is the skin behind the ears, he said.
"It's one of the most sensitive skin patches. If the skin doesn't become red, itchy, or swollen after testing once or twice, one can use the facial mask," he said.
Watsons is one of the biggest health and beauty products retailers in China, part of the A.S Watson Group based in Hong Kong. According to its website, it has over 2,600 outlets in Asia.